Monday, October 28, 2013

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

R and I riding in the becak
I had such a fun time in Cambodia that I decided we needed to take more trips. I love to travel, and Singapore is a perfect springboard for exploring Southeast Asia, not least because numerous budget airlines are headquarted/based here. Visiting ancient temple ruins or luscious tropical islands is thus a matter of a under-two-hour flight and 80 dollars (or less): it's about the same in terms of difficulty and expense as a trip to Los Angeles from San Francisco.

First up was exploring Java, the cultural and population center of Indonesia. I had only visited Bali before, which is really not like the rest of Indonesia whatsoever (being extremely touristed, Hindu/animist in religion and culturally unique: it is also significantly wealthier than the rest of the country). My main goal was to see the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Borobudur and Prambanan, ancient temple complexes built in the 9th Century and often compared to Angkor Wat. I didn't know much else about Javanese history/culture before we went.

So arriving in Yogyakarta (the gateway to the ruins) was a fantastic surprise. It is a large city (around 500,000 people) and the home of numerous universities, including Indonesia's oldest, largest and top ranked one, which considering that Indonesia has around 250 million people and is the world's fourth most populous country is a bigger deal than you might imagine. This gives a young, exciting vibe to the town: it has a thriving art scene and at night the streets are full of carefree young people listening to music, eating street food and just generally hanging out.
They have lots of artistic graffiti, so strange after Singapore where there is none at all
Indonesian tourists going for a carriage ride: Yogyakarta is a big tourist destination, largely for domestic tourists
In many ways it's also very traditional. It is still ruled by a sultan (who is not elected but inherits the position of governor), even though the rest of Indonesia is a democracy (here's an interesting article from the Economist about that). It is the center of traditional Indonesian high culture, including Javanese dance, shadow puppetry, and music. And it's within driving distance of many ancient ruins, temples and palaces.
Gamelan orchestra, the classical music of Indonesia
Sultan's palace, with one of his retainers: he still has hundreds of them, knives in their sashes
This screen represents the Javanese calendar 
Wayang (shadow puppet) stained glass window
Historic cannon: the Sultan has ruled here since 1749
Model of a woman making batik: Yogyakarta is a major center for this art
I found the combination of modernity and ancient civilization totally alluring, so much so that we went back for another visit two months later (meaning we visited in mid-July and mid-September).
Plus the food is good: I have no idea what any of this is, but it was delicious!
Even so, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface. I definitely hope to go back soon!

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